On Generosity

What does it mean to be generous towards something — towards a book, an idea, a work of art, even a person?

It doesn’t mean liking that thing. On the contrary, it means putting judgment aside in order to engage the thing, consider the thing, take it on, take it up. And what can be more generous than that? To consider something entails a certain intimacy, letting it play across you, with your ideas and memories, your blood and tissue and muscle. Generosity entails lending something else your body to see how it plays with your system, how it sets and where it settles — its speeds and intensities, its desires and drives, its shapes and trajectories.

And this means letting this thing have its way rather than making it conform to your pre-established ideals. Needless to say, you will make it conform to you. How could it be any other way? An engagement with the world is singular: this going with that, you going with that book, that word, that photograph. But this is different than making it conform before its had a chance to speak, before its made its way. The best reading is a co-operative event, you and thing together making something new: you take the thing somewhere it didn’t know it could go and it returns the favor.

Letting something have its way demands great trust. And so this is another aspect of generosity: assuming the best from something. That is, rather than looking for how something fails, why it sucks, why you hate it, you look for what’s great, what’s interesting, what has possibility. Why spend your time, your energy, talking about something you don’t enjoy, you don’t respect? What a perverse thing to do! Generous reading seeks to proliferate a thing, make it as interesting and wondrous as possible! It doesn’t reduce; it multiplies.

And, well, if you don’t like something, put it down — stop eating, shut the book, leave the theater, click to another page. Life is too fucking short to spend it with shite.

Shed the shite! (Ok, ok: I’m a fan of Irving Welsh’s, ergo, “shite.”)

Does this mean there’s no place for what seems to be negative critique? Does this mean you can’t stand up every now and again and say, “This sucks shit”?

Well, I say: if you can walk away, walk away. Better to use your attention, your energy, your vitality on something that makes you more attentive, more energetic, more vital — on something that propels you in the healthiest, most robust fashion possible.

And for those things from which you cannot so simply walk away — things like capitalism — well, I say that in the spirit of generosity, try to make your critique as interesting and nasty as possible. TC mark

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1363230138 Michael Koh

    I trust you, thank you.

  • Sinder

    Beautiful

  • Carolyn Givens

    very nicely done! love the sentiment!

  • me

    How about being more generous towards your students then and give them the benefit of the doubt.

  • rae

    “It doesn’t mean liking that thing. On the contrary, it means putting judgment aside in order to engage the thing, consider the thing, take it on, take it up. And what can be more generous than that?”

    and

    “And, well, if you don’t like something, put it down — stop eating, shut the book, leave the theater, click to another page. Life is too fucking short to spend it with shite.”

    seem like completely contradictory statements.

    I was really excited after reading your first paragraph or two, but by the end it seems you completely refute what you say at the beginning.

    • Daniel Coffeen

      No, judgement is not the same as discernment. There are different modes of saying yes and different modes of saying no. One mode of no saying is not a judgment of the thing but an affirmation of oneself: fried liver and onions and I do not go well together. That is not a judgment per se of liver and onions — it's a statement of fact about my body's taste, its metabolism, how my body goes.

  • L Peezay

    I think this hits the nail right on the head.

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